By: Matt Hegarty
Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Fla., has barred trainer Marcus Vitali and his associate, trainer Allan Hunter, from entering horses at the track, while Hunter has removed his horses from Gulfstream Park under orders from that track’s management, officials for both tracks confirmed on Monday.
The decisions, which were first reported by the Paulick Report, stemmed from the recent entry by Vitali of a horse formerly trained by Hunter in a race at Tampa Bay Downs, the officials said.
The bans are the latest developments in a case stretching back to this spring, when Vitali reached a settlement with Florida regulators to serve a 120-day suspension over multiple violations for regulated medications. At that time, Vitali transferred a number of his horses to Hunter, whom Vitali has described as a “good friend.”
Vitali was barred from the grounds at Gulfstream earlier this year after allegations surfaced that he was visiting the track’s backstretch, and Gulfstream had earlier ordered Hunter to remove all horses at Gulfstream who had a financial connection to Vitali. Hunter had approximately 10 horses still on the grounds at Gulfstream when track officials ordered all of his horses off the grounds this weekend, according to Gulfstream officials.
Peter Berube, the general manager of Tampa Bay Downs, said on Monday that stewards at the track informed both Vitali and Hunter that they would be barred from the track after Vitali entered a horse, Silver Wraith, on the track’s opening-day card last Saturday. The horse, a maiden with eight career starts, had previously been listed as being trained by Hunter.
Silver Wraith, owned by Crossed Sabres Farm, which has employed Vitali in the past, was scratched.
“I don’t need that type of problem here,” said Berube, citing the developments over the summer and VItali’s medication infractions. Berube said the bans on Vitali and Hunter were “indefinite.”
Vitali’s license was reinstated in Florida on Oct. 29. Tracks have broad powers, however, to deny licensees access to their grounds under well-established legal doctrines. Silver Wraith was the first horse entered by Vitali since he served out his negotiated suspension.
P.J. Campo, vice president of racing at Gulfstream, said the Silver Wraith transfer was evidence that Hunter continued to train horses associated with Vitali despite vowing earlier this year that none of his remaining horses had a connection to the trainer. When Gulfstream officials demanded in September that Hunter remove any horses from his barn connected to Vitali, Hunter agreed to transfer approximately 20 horses out of his barn.
“We were told that these were Allan’s horses, we were shown the paperwork, and it’s clear that what we were told was not the case,” Campo said on Monday. “We are not going to tolerate that kind of behavior. We’re not going to run our business that way.”
Gulfstream Park is owned by The Stronach Group, which also owns tracks in Maryland, California, and other states.